Will Algemen Sterling leave the bantamweight division with the lead against “Sugar” Sean O’Malley?

Estimated read time 4 min read

The main event of UFC 292 brings the bantamweight championship fight to Boston. Aljamain Sterling is looking to put an exclamation mark on his title by taking out Sean O’Malley as his last act of action.

If all goes according to plan, Sterling will move up to the featherweight division and clear the way for his teammate, Merab Divalishvili, to go on to retain the 135-pound belt. I’m sure O’Malley, the UFC brash bantamweight contender, has other plans.

In a unique way, Saturday Night’s Main Event is a battle of proof for both champion and challenger. While some point to the illegitimate knees and shrugged shoulders of Sterling’s final run, others realize O’Malley’s mouth played as important a role as his resume in earning the championship title. A controversial win over former champion Petr Yan opened the door for promotion to capitalize on his star power.

O’Malley enters Saturday night’s main event as a +200 underdog, while Sterling is the -250 favorite to defend his belt for the fourth consecutive time. I’ll explain why I think the GBP rate is warranted, but also why I don’t bet on it.

Entertainment is part of the fighting business. Audiences love to gravitate toward villains, especially when they’re underdogs. When they have a history of knockouts on a highlight reel and cash in as a +240 underdog, good luck keeping the crowd out of the betting window.

However, O’Malley is the Ferrari in this fight, and Sterling is about to take it off-road to see what he’s really made of. Defiant certainly brings an advanced arsenal. He does an excellent job of measuring his opponent at range, mixing physical work with a certain fluidity often reserved for higher-level fighters. Outside of the obvious scenarios where he can clip Sterling when he’s so committed, I find it hard to see a way to win for the opposition. Sterling is well trained and comes from one of the most decorated teams in MMA, so I am confident he will be focused, disciplined and prepared. O’Malley has been refreshingly candid about the importance of keeping the fight afloat, which would be a very daunting task given the gulf in the fight between the two fighters.

Sterling cruised to a five-round win as he earned four takedowns against Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. As you know the last hero’s opponents, the real action begins once they plant you on your back. Sterling is excellent at using control time to punish his opponents as they advance into positions, putting them in danger with perfectly executed recoveries. As for Richard Mann, Sterling is 13-1 in his career when he spends 15% of the fight in control positions, which is just 3:45 seconds out of five rounds. It’s a real possibility Sterling could clear that one takedown if he hits it early in the round.

O’Malley excels at keeping opponents at the end of his punches, but Sterling is too athletic and strong to be denied five rounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if O’Malley comes up with a tactical game plan to keep this going, and it’s reasonable to expect some level of success early on. However, wrestling the superior Sterling, once he is on top, is where this fight will quickly become uncompetitive.

This could end with the champion raining blows or O’Malley tapping too far, but it would end before the final bell. I have sterling as a bigger favorite than the money line odds (-250) pointing out at 71.43%, so this is the right side in my view. But while this is the right bet, for me it is not the right bet. I see a greater advantage with betting on sterling to win at close range even out of the money. The champ wants to put a stamp on his bantamweight reign, and there are advantages against O’Malley that will allow him to do exactly that. Bet: Aljamain Sterling by KO/TKO/DQ or Submission -110.

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